To assist Dhamma Projects’ aim of discussing, celebrating and examining the integration of the practice and principles behind Vipassana out of the centre and into the world of the householder, we would like to share a recent conversation exploring this subject in the three parts:
Interviewer: How long have you been practising Vipassana?
Respondent: I sat my first ten-day course about nine years ago in Turkey in Istanbul. And after that one, for about five years I sat about one course a year with not much of a daily practise then. And then about three years ago I quit my job, left my apartment, I broke up with my girlfriend, and I left for the Vancouver Vipassana Centre, that’s in Merritt, the big centre for British Columbia. I stayed there for ten, ten day courses, so that was about seven months. And yeah, I think that changed a lot of things for me –
Interviewer: Wow, I imagine.
Respondent: And then after I left the centre, so seven months at the centre and then I left the centre, for almost about a year and a half I think I had a strong daily practise after I left the centre. Nowadays, maybe about half an hour.
Interviewer: A day?
Respondent: A day. Half an hour a day. Although every chance I get I’m willing to take another ten day course, just to keep on deepening. Although something very big shifted in me after those seven months, and also since I started psychotherapy, being a client myself, I’m a lot more aware of a lot of things just during my daily life, whereas before there was a huge difference between when I would sit and be aware, and when I would be just living my daily life. Now it’s almost as if my entire life has become a retreat. Things are coming up left and right all the time in every moment, whether or not I’m sitting or not, and more often than not I’m aware of what I’m feeling as emotions, and I’m aware of sensations somewhere in my body almost all the time.
Interviewer: Would you say for those people who have experience of Vipassana but don’t have experience of psychotherapy: Vipassana helps you with your awareness; psychotherapy helps you with your understanding?
Respondent: Exactly. You know, what I feel, I’ve always been very strongly dedicated to mindfulness practise. Although I studied psychology at university, the more courses I took in Vipassana, the less I came to have faith in psychology. And this led me into a subtle kind of depression at one time, because I had lost all faith in psychology. After those seven months at the Vipassana centre, I came across this work by a psychotherapist –Robert Augustus Masters- who had also been a very long time meditator. So I started to understand how meditation raises our awareness so that in daily life we’re a lot more aware of what’s happening inside. If we’re reacting now, we are maybe reacting a lot more quickly, and sometimes it’s short-lived but it’s a lot more intense than before, because more and more we observe, and less and less we suppress I think. And yet when I am then aware of where my soft spot is, the practise that will take me into that core wound to really heal that is none other than psychotherapy itself. That’s been my experience.
Interviewer: Where would you say you’re best able to put into practise the principles of Vipassana, on the mat or in your day to day life?
Respondent: I guess there came a point in my life where one day I was sitting and I was also aware of sensation, but also I was aware of thinking. And then I caught, I actually just noticed a thought that was in my mind, but that was contradictory to how I want to live my life. So I felt in me there was something that wasn’t quite invested in living a wise life, you know. And then I caught that thought, and that almost tried to sabotage that…a part of me was trying to almost sabotage the way I was deepening on the path. Then I said, “Oh my God, I don’t want to live like this anymore.” And this part of me that is not wanting to grow up, that is not wanting to get wiser and deeper and more loving, I don’t want that to rule my life anymore. And that was a big shift in me. It happened in a split second, and I said to myself, “Well, now it’s time for me to leave.” And that’s how I quit my job and everything, and I left for the centre. I think that’s when it really hit me. It helped me to access a place in me that has a lot more motivation to go a lot deeper, no matter what I’m going to face in myself. And with that determination I guess the Sangha becomes very important. To be around other people who think similarly, people who are not motivated by blaming other situations anymore for their suffering, and they’re willing to take responsibility for what they’re feeling, they’re willing to look within, and not only intellectually and also not superficially either. So I felt this sense of support from a community. I’m not sure how much of your question I’m answering at the moment, but without feeling that support, I don’t think I…I don’t drink anymore, it’s been three years. I don’t use weed or things like that, anything that can change the state of my mind.
Interviewer: So the question was where are you best able to practise the principles of Vipassana, and what I heard was that for you to be able to do that, Sangha is very important –
Respondent: Yes, friends who think similarly, yes.
Interviewer:- and in a Vipassana centre you have that Sangha. But have you found since your period of staying in the centre and returning to day-to-day life that has been difficult?
Respondent: You know, I find in so many ways, seven months at the centre and also like about a year or so after I left the centre, things started to get really internalized. So much so internalized, and at times I feel as though I don’t need the support anymore. But when I do feel like I need it, I feel like I’m such in a desperate need of it. So at times where I do feel the need, it’s a very deep need. It’s almost like a yearning for someone to be there to share this with me. But at other times it’s so internalized, you know, the sexual misconduct, I’m always aware of thoughts and feelings that can (pause) make that impossible.
Interviewer: Make what impossible?
Respondent: The sexual misconduct precept -, the subtle sexual tension that I might even be enjoying with someone, but I’m not invested in that person. I’m also increasingly more aware of the tendency to tell a lie. So there’s a lot more awareness of these things. And you know what has been really dissolving in my day-to-day life is the guilt. For example, I do something unwise, a behaviour. I might feel some shame about it, some healthy shame, and later perhaps apologise to make up for it. That’s beautiful. But it doesn’t turn into guilt anymore. Because in guilt we’re beating ourselves up for what we’re doing or how we’re being. We’re really, really punishing ourselves. And that is a very cold – how do you say – in that moment, we’re split, and one part of us is the childish part, and the other is the parental part, and one is trying to punish the other, and the other is really taking in the punishment, as if just because he or she acted in an unwise way, as if this justifies the punishment. That doesn’t appear in me anymore. Things don’t turn into guilt. So there’s not too much fear or too much punishing myself. When I do in fact, it may be in a subtle way break a precept. There’s a lot more self-compassion I can say.